Picture of a landmine sign in a field

As far as touchy topics go, nutrition is on par with politics and religion, said Fetch dvm360 speaker Donna Raditic, DVM, DACVN, CVA, during a recent session. But instead of avoiding it, Dr. Raditic proposed that the best way for veterinary professionals to diffuse the tension is to tackle the topic head-on with honest, straightforward guidance.

With Dr. Raditic’s help, let’s tread not-so-lightly through some of veterinary nutrition’s latest landmines (and a few long-standing ones as well).

She discussed a 2018 studyinvolving 24 golden retrievers diagnosed with taurine deficiency and DCM and 52 healthy ones.1Twenty-three of the 24 DCM dogs were fed diets that were either grain-free, legume-rich or a combination of both.

“You should go read this study,” Dr. Raditic said, “because 84% of the DCM goldens had a whole blood taurine concentration that was less than 200 µmol/L, and 16% were in the 200 to 250 µmol/L range. Fourteen of the healthy goldens had a taurine concentration that was either less than 200 µmol/L or in that 200 to 250 µmol/L range. From this study, they are calling goldens with a whole blood taurine concentration < 250 µmol/L taurine deficient and suggesting the need for breed-specific whole blood taurine levels.”

What would Dr. Raditic take home from this?

“Tell your clients not to panic,” she said. “This is not every golden nor every dog eating grain-free, heavy-legume diets. There are a lot of dogs eating these diets without heart issues. But I think it’s something we’re going to need to start looking at. If I was in practice and had goldens on grain-free or legume-heavy diets, or if I had any concern whatsoever, or if my client had any concern whatsoever, I would check the dog’s whole blood taurine concentration. And if I found a deficiency, I would contact the FDA.”

Dr. Raditic also noted that with a diet change and taurine +/- L-carnitine supplementation, 23 out of the 24 DCM dogs showed significant improvement in echocardiographic parameters and taurine concentration.

She has a hunch that further research will reveal that it’s more than just grain-free and legume-heavy diets behind these taurine deficiencies. This inkling partly stems from the finding that 23 out of the 24 DCM dogs were eating less of the diet than you would calculate that they needed to maintain their weight. In other words, these dogs were taking in less of the nutrients in the diet that a dog utilizes to synthesize taurine. Dr. Raditic has also seen dogs with DCM and taurine deficiencies that have been fed other diets—including a homemade diet formulated by an ACVN diplomate and a diet fortified with taurine.

“I think research will show that it’s multifactorial,” she concluded. “It may be diet itself, it may be the nutrient density, it may be metabolism, it may be genetics. Some breeds may need taurine in their diet straight up. But it’s a wakeup call for us to start paying attention. If you don’t look, you don’t know.”